Where’s Omnichannel Going? Notes from the MITX Ecommerce Summit

February 14, 2017

Last week, we were proud to see our Founder & CEO, Carl Prindle, speak at the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange’s Ecommerce Summit on a panel called “Democratizing Ecommerce,” exploring how companies in legacy industries have been able to reinvigorate shopping experiences using best-in-class technology and a dose of creativity.

Alongside Jules Pieri (Co-Founder & CEO, The Grommet), Rob Weisberg (CEO, Invaluable), Wombi Rose (CEO, Lovepop) and Nick Rellas (CEO, Drizly), Carl talked how the power of ecommerce has rewired the furniture shopping experience that for so long was “kicking and screaming” for innovation.

“Today the furniture shopping journey always starts online, but shoppers want to experience the store, they want quick delivery, and they want easy returns,” he said. “When they walk into our retailers’ stores, customers are empowered.”

At Blueport, we are 100% focused on helping our retailers create seamless omnichannel furniture shopping experiences, so that when shoppers walk into stores, they are empowered to shop when and how they want to shop. Attending the MITX Ecommerce Summit, it was clear that retailers, vendors, and researchers in our community have the same end goal: unlocking the best retail experiences possible. Here are some omnichannel trends presenters spoke about that have us excited for what’s to come in this ever-evolving space.

Omnichannel Creates “Super Consumers”

In the summit’s keynote address, Cheryl Kaplan, CEO of Italian shoe brand M. Gemi, described her business vision shaped by the pillars of omnichannel shopping experiences, giving shoppers the flexibility to shop easily between online and brick-and-mortar. Currently, M. Gemi sells shoes made in small Italian footwear workshops direct to consumers online, as well as in a pop-up store in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.

Kaplan said “every metric gets better with physical interaction,” which has helped M. Gemi bring the best experiences to “super consumers”—shoppers who want to leverage the power of online convenience with memorable in-person experiences. “Super consumers” are extremely valuable shoppers; in a recent survey conducted by Fluent, customers shopping at their favorite retailers using multiple channels were the ones who made purchases more often.

SOURCE: BI Intelligence, The Future of Retail

M.Gemi has found success in this omnichannel model, which has granted customers the ability to configure their best suited shopping experience. For instance, using its website, shoppers could choose shoes they’re interested in, book an appointment to try them on, and have all those pairs immediately available upon arrival in-store—and that’s just one of many different ways to land upon a pair of shoes.

At Blueport, we’ve found similar success with platform features that seamlessly connects multiple channels over the course of a typically long shopping journey. One example: our patented cart-syncing technology, Store-Sync. This technology exemplifies the extraordinary results you can achieve when in-store and online are in perfect synchrony, giving store associates the ability to know what products customers are interested in when customers float between our sites and their local stores.

Retailers Must Create Frictionless Shopping Experiences for these “Super Consumers”

In 2017, frictionless shopping experiences that facilitate movement between multiple channels are a retail ideal. With “super consumers” interested in using offline and online methods to move towards a purchase, retailers should ensure that they have the best infrastructure, information, and strategies to meet shoppers anytime, anywhere. (Take millennials. 65% of them will use their smartphone while shopping in a store, according to Alliance Data, further showing how retailers are taking away barriers and making it easy for consumers to shop.)

Retailers now are devising innovative new ways to help streamline the path to purchase. Sanchan Saxena, a Manager of Product Management at Instagram, spoke about how the company is beginning to close the gap between the engagement and purchase stages within shopping journeys.

With its “Shopping on Instagram” feature, users can look at a retailer’s post and click on products to learn more details—and even buy those products directly within the app. There are already 40 test partners on board, including Kate Spade and Nike.

SOURCE: Instagram Business

And with more “Internet of Things” products inundating the marketplace, artificial intelligence will slowly become an increasingly engrained part of ecommerce. IBM and Staples have been working together to produce a next generation “Easy Button,” which can understand basic conversations to fulfill online orders.

Individualization is the Next Wave in Capturing “Super Consumers”

We now live in a retail world shaped by empowered shoppers—ones who know more about products than retail associates by using technology to give them the greatest insights. And what often gives informed shoppers the impetus to act upon a purchase is based on how personalized the retail experience is. Forrester reports that 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.

Personalization is a well-adopted strategy in the ecommerce space for retailers to direct relevant content, recommendations, and promotional offers to customers—and it’s certainly a key part of what Blueport does. On his panel, Carl talked of how the furniture industry’s strong brick-and-mortar presence makes the vertical inherently local. With the Blueport Platform’s geolocation capabilities, we can ensure that all content, recommendations, and promotions are personalized for the right people—even if some of your stores are hundreds of miles apart.

According to Brendan Witcher, a Principal Analyst at Forrester, the next stage of personalization will be individualization, a strategy that aims to capture a 360 degree view of customers through more comprehensive personal data. Taking into account shopping behaviors, attitudes, and shopping context among other things, this strategy will be imperative for retailers to think about executing down the line.

A retailer that has begun to holistically evaluate customers is Neiman Marcus—building an omnichannel experience that can connect a shopper to products she want, get her in touch with local store associates, bookmark favorite products, and generate smart recommendations for other products she may be interested in purchasing.

SOURCE: Forrester

So now where do you begin building an omnichannel empire? Jake Bailey (Head of Business Development, Wish) says that data should the starting point in your business strategy. As a mobile-first marketplace that boasts 200 million customers, Wish is a company that has learned that data flows into everything, be it consumer profiles, merchandising, or device of purchase. The same tactic applies to the omnichannel concept—it’s critical to spend time upfront to ensure you are able create the retail experiences customers are looking for.

From packaging this data to bringing it to life with sophisticated technology, the Blueport Platform was built to serve the future of furniture retail, which lies in omnichannel strategy. Inherently tactile and big-ticket, the furniture space now has a true solution that seamlessly marries multiple channels for maximum online and in-store results. At MITX, it was an honor to share this vision among such accomplished institutions in our ecommerce community.